Yeah, sunburns happen! Maybe you forgot to reapply sunscreen at the beach or you stayed longer than you’d planned.
Or maybe your better half, who applied the goop, missed half your back. Whatever happened, the result is the same: You’ve got a hot, painful, red, itchy burn, and you need relief.
So what to do? ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports, recently asked dermatologists for their advice on treatments that can help you heal, plus ones to skip because they might not be worth it.
According to the dermatologists, you can’t make a sunburn go away any faster, but you can minimize the misery. The secret to relief: Treat yourself quickly — from the inside and on the outside. And avoid doing it again! Too many burns can lead to early skin aging and skin cancer.
WHAT TO TRY
— Painkillers. Sunburns hurt — they’re really a kind of injury, says Dr. Naomi Lawrence, director of dermatologic surgery at Cooper University Medical Center in Camden, N.J. Anti-inflammatory pain meds such as ibuprofen and aspirin can ease the pain.
— Water. Drink extra water, especially while you’re in the sun. Your body is working hard to cool your skin, says Dr. Deborah S. Sarnoff, senior vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation, so staying hydrated can help.
— Fruits and veggies. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants may help prevent cell damage caused by the sun, says Dr. Elizabeth S. Martin, a dermatologist in Hoover, Ala.
— Hydrocortisone cream. If you’re itchy, an over-the-counter cream can help.
— A cool compress. While your skin feels hot to the touch, apply cool compresses (soak a towel in water or milk, which contains soothing lactic acid) often to decrease redness and release heat trapped in your body, Sarnoff recommends.
— A cool bath. Add milk, oatmeal, baking soda or green tea and soak, Lawrence says.
— Lotion. A light moisturizer can minimize peeling and flaking. So can aloe vera if you’re not allergic to it. You don’t have to spend money on a special after-sun lotion.
WHAT TO SKIP
— After-sun sprays. They offer instant pain relief, but most pain relief sprays contain benzocaine or another anesthetic, and some people are allergic to them. If you’re sensitive, they could make things worse, Sarnoff warns.
— Vaseline. Don’t apply it or other petroleum jelly products right after getting too much sun; according to ShopSmart, it won’t cool you off.
— Noxzema. Some people swear that a thick coat of Noxzema can soothe a sunburn, but applying more than a thin layer probably won’t help, Martin says. And even the manufacturer says not to use its products for sunburn relief because they haven’t been tested for that purpose.
— Vitamin creams and oils. Don’t puncture vitamin E capsules to spread the oil on a sunburn; if you’re allergic, it could inflame your sore skin and may not help anyway. Also, a growing number of skin care products contain antioxidants, but the dermatologists ShopSmart talked to say that you should get your antioxidants from your diet rather than from a cream. Dermatologists are not sure whether antioxidants are effective when used topically, Sarnoff says. “There’s not a lot of good science yet. For example, vitamin C is a really popular antioxidant, but we’re not sure it’s stable in the jar.” So don’t waste your money on pricey lotions and potions.